‘Don’t be afraid’: Seamus Heaney’s last words


By Shawn Pogatchnik, AP

DUBLIN — Ireland mourned the loss of its Nobel laureate poet, Seamus Heaney, with equal measures of poetry and pain Monday in a funeral full of grace notes and a final message from the great man himself: Don’t be afraid.

Among those packing the pews of Dublin’s Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart were government leaders from both parts of Ireland, poets and novelists, Bono and The Edge from rock band U2, and former Lebanese hostage Brian Keenan.

Ireland’s foremost uilleann piper, Liam O’Flynn, played a wailing lament before family members and friends offered a string of readings from the Bible and their own often-lyrical remembrances of the country’s most celebrated writer of the late 20th century. The 90-minute service ended with a cellist’s rendition of the childhood bedtime classic, “Brahms’s Lullaby.”

Heaney won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1995 in recognition of his wide-ranging writings inspired by the rural wonders of Ireland, the strife of his native Northern Ireland, the ancient cultures of Europe, of Catholic faith and Celtic mysticism, and the immutability of family ties. He died Friday in a Dublin hospital at the age of 74.

In a tribute delivered from the pulpit, one of Heaney’s three children revealed his final words: a text message from his hospital bed to his wife, Marie.

Michael Heaney said the words, “written a few minutes before he passed away, were in his beloved Latin. And they read: ‘Noli timere.’ Don’t be afraid.” That revelation opened a ripple of tears in the audience, including from Marie and only daughter Catherine in the front row beside the flower-topped coffin.

His sons, Michael and Christopher, and other relatives carried his coffin from the church. Outside, on a blustery and sunny day, hundreds spontaneously applauded as his casket emerged into the light.